"Passive Listener" - the finished album released 11/05/2013
I would like to share some stuff I had experienced trying to put out my first release primarily using Caustic to create instrumental electronic music.
1) Song sketching with Caustic - the ability to whip out my phone/tablet and a set of earbuds and start experimenting with sounds and beats is priceless. I think I have put some of my best work being in environments when I was just completely bored to death but remembered I had this application installed on my phone. There is some sort of magic with the way the application works too with the pattern blocks, when you are working on a song and have a few measures, as you continue to create and have the app in "pattern" mode, some of your patterns will get played back with each other in unexpected and interesting ways and this can spark a lot of new ideas as your ideas sort of get remixed on the fly. The application sort of jams along with you. Also, take the time to learn how the piano roll feature works. This will save you from working yourself into a corner later on.
2) Using Caustic with a DAW - I needed the use of a Digital Audio Workstation that could handle recording audio from my guitar so I picked up Reason and started exporting my tracks from Caustic into it. I had some glitchy midi issues exporting midi data from Caustic 2.0 but nothing that took more than ten minutes to fix up and which have seemed to have been fixed in Caustic 3. I initially thought I needed to export the midi only and then substitute "real" synthesized instrumentation from the DAW that I just paid money for - not so. It took me a while to become convinced that a lot of the synthesized sounds from Caustic are at least as good (occasionally better) than the sounds I was after in my DAW. The only thing for me now has become making music in Caustic that is slightly off the grid. One song I have is predominantly played behind the beat and a lot of the notes were placed by pure feel or live performance which is not something I can currently do in Caustic.
3) Music Theory - At some point I realized I needed more understanding of music theory to help me gain a more complexed palette of colors and building blocks to work with when writing songs. I wanted to make my demo songs more interesting and to figure out what sorts of options I might have to add things that sound "musical" or sound like they go along with the ideas I am currently working with. This also gave me the tool to improvise over my working ideas and sort of be able to jam out with myself. I have included links to a chart that I have compiled along with point by point instructions on how to use it. With this understanding you will be able to turn on the radio and literally improvise over and play along with any song that comes on. Taking time to explore this theory was invaluable and I hope you hear it in my music.
4) Soundcloud/Bandcamp - Once you have created a tune you feel good about, you are going to want to share it straight away. I know for myself that after I work on the song for an extended period of time, I truly cannot give it an objective listening until some time has passed. My new perspective is to give the song a waiting period. You cannot go back in time and erase someone's first impression of your music. I remember most specifically that there was some high frequency hiss that I had created using a maximizer on one of my instruments. I could not hear it after spending so many hours on the track however another person pointed it out to me and I felt fortunate I did not post it prior to addressing this issue. Also, look for Soundcloud style appropriate groups to post your song to so you can get more exposure if that is something you want and don't forget Youtube as a resource for sharing music.
5) The Loudness War - I had attempted to master the album myself at one point which requires the ability to loudness match tracks, work a dynamic mutliband compressor as well as limit and harmonically excite and configure dithering but I realized I just did not have the skills to confidently do this and know the recording was going to sound the best that it can. I mean I put all this time and effort into writing and recording these songs, I wanted the end result to sound as good as possible. I then had to make a decision, did I want it to be really loud and have some of the dynamics compressed out of it or did I want a richer sound but at a lower volume level. I went back and forth about this for a while and read on up on the Loudness War in commercial music. My final verdict was that since it was my initial release and many of my tracks were not going to be listened through all the way (they tend to be long) that I had to go loud.
In my opinion, if you want to get heard and build any type of audience, there is nothing worse than your audience listening to other music and then your track comes on and it sounds quiet. To many who do not have much trained listening experience (this includes myself) louder = better quality (though of course this is not true). It honestly took me a little time to hear the negative impacts of heavy limiting on music and you shouldn't expect most of your listeners to hear the difference. My suggestion is to personally master every track using the Caustic mastering tools but if you decide to release and album, have a professional do it and A/B it with your version to make sure you hear what you are paying for. David Klug was able to make my drums have more snap and removed a lot of the low end muddiness that I never even knew existed until I heard his masters.
6) Official Release - This is where you have your all your shiny mastered tracks and a high-res version of your album art and you want to make it available in some online retail stores. For this album I did everything in 44.1k sample rate and 16-bit CD quality resolution. This is sort of the standard that all these online stores will sell and the format they expect to receive your music in. I used DB Music Converter to edit the ID-Tag info to create the 320kbps Constant Bitrate mp3s for uploads for the CD Baby music service (there is also Tunecore and some others). I went with what I felt was most convenient to just get my music out there and available to buy. It is now available for licensing and it is in all of the big online stores - iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and many more. Do I expect to make a cent? No. Then why did I do it? It is a starting point. A proof of concept. I have now gone through the entire process once. I have seen it from start to finish and if I want to continue and pursue it, I now have clear view of the entire process.
(ID-Tag info refers to the name, credit and image attached to your mp3 file so it gets displayed properly when it gets played in an mp3 player. It is meta data.)
Just to finish up here, Cuastic is awesome. It is not just a tiny app you can only use on your phone or tablet. You can use it as a sketch pad, a synthesizer rack for another DAW, a drum machine, an audio workstation, and stuff sounds really good exported from it. I even had my guitar hooked up to it last week :) If this was a $50 app, I would buy it without a second thought. Period. End of story.
My demos for comparison: